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   Chapter 29 No.29

Alec Forbes of Howglen By George MacDonald Characters: 14010

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05

It was very dark by the time she left the house, for the night was drizzly; but she knew the windings of Glamerton almost as well as the way up her garret-stair. Thomas's door was half open, and a light was shining from the kitchen. She knocked timidly. At the same moment she heard the voice of Thomas from the other end of this house, which consisted only of a but and a ben. In the ben-end (the inner originally, hence better room) there was no light: Thomas often sat in the dark.

"Jean, come ben to worship," he cried roughly.

"Comin', Thamas," answered Jean.

Again Annie knocked, but again without result. Her knock was too gentle. After a moment's pause, dreading that the intended prayers might interfere with her project, she knocked yet again; but a second time her knock was overwhelmed in the gruff call of Thomas, sounding yet more peremptory than before.

"Jean, come ben to worship."

"Hoot, Thamas, hae patience, man. I canna come."

"Jean, come ben to worship direckly."

"I'm i' the mids' o' cleanin' the shune. I hae dooble wark o' Mononday, ye ken."

"The shune can bide."

"Worship can bide."

"Haud yer tongue. The shune can bide."

"Na, na; they canna bide."

"Gin ye dinna come ben this minute, I'll hae worship my lane."

Vanquished by the awful threat, Jean dropped the shoe she held, and turned her apron; but having to pass the door on her way to the ben-end, she saw Annie standing on the threshold, and stopped with a start, ejaculating:

"The Lord preserve's, lassie!"

"Jean, what are ye sweerin' at?" cried Thomas, angrily.

"At Annie Anderson," answered Jean simply.

"What for are ye sweerin' at her? I'm sure she's a douce lassie. What does the bairn want?"

"What do ye want, Annie?"

"I want to see Thomas, gin ye please," answered Annie.

"She wants to see you, Thomas," screamed Jean; remarking in a lower voice, "He's as deef's a door-nail, Annie Anderson."

"Lat her come in, than," bawled Thomas.

"He's tellin' ye to come in, Annie," said Jean, as if she had been interpreting his words. But she detained her nevertheless to ask several unimportant questions. At length the voice of Thomas rousing her once more, she hastened to introduce her.

"Gang in there, Annie," she said, throwing open the door of the dark room. The child entered and stood just within it, not knowing even where Thomas sat. But a voice came to her out of the gloom:

"Ye're no feared at the dark, are ye, Annie? Come in."

"I dinna ken whaur I'm gaein."

"Never min' that. Come straucht foret. I'm watchin' ye."

For Thomas had been sitting in the dark till he could see in it (which, however, is not an invariable result), while out of the little light Annie had come into none at all But she obeyed the voice, and went straight forward into the dark, evidently much to the satisfaction of Thomas, who seizing her arm with one hand, laid the other, horny and heavy, on her head, saying:

"Noo, my lass, ye'll ken what faith means. Whan God tells ye to gang into the mirk, gang!"

"But I dinna like the mirk," said Annie.

"No human sowl can," responded Thomas. "Jean, fess a can'le direckly."

Now Thomas was an enemy to everything that could be, justly or unjustly, called superstition; and this therefore was not the answer that might have been expected of him. But he had begun with the symbolic and mystical in his reception of Annie, and perhaps there was something in the lovely childishness of her unconscious faith (while she all the time thought herself a dreadful unbeliever) that kept Thomas to the simplicities of the mystical part of his nature. Besides, Thomas's mind was a rendezvous for all extremes. In him they met, and showed that they met by fighting all day long. If you knocked at his inner door, you never could tell what would open it to you-all depending on what happened to be uppermost in the wrestle.

The candle was brought and set on the table, showing two or three geranium plants in the window. Why her eyes should have fixed upon these, Annie tried to discover afterwards, when she was more used to thinking. But she could not tell, except it were that they were so scraggy and wretched, half drowned in the darkness, and half blanched by the miserable light, and therefore must have been very like her own feelings, as she stood before the ungentle but not unkind stone-mason.

"Weel, lassie," said he, when Jean had retired, "what do ye want wi' me?"

Annie burst into tears again.

"Jean, gae butt the hoose direckly," cried Thomas, on the mere chance of his attendant having lingered at the door. And the sound of her retreating footsteps, though managed with all possible care, immediately justified his suspicion. This interruption turned Annie's tears aside, and when Thomas spoke next, she was able to reply.

"Noo, my bairn," he said, "what's the maitter?"

"I was at the missionar kirk last nicht," faltered Annie.

"Ay! And the sermon took a grip o' ye?-Nae doot, nae doot. Ay. Ay."

"I canna help forgettin' him, Thomas."

"But ye maun try and no forget him, lassie."

"Sae I do. But it's dour wark, and 'maist impossible."

"Sae it maun aye be; to the auld Aidam impossible; to the young

Christian a weary watch."

Hope began to dawn upon Annie.

"A body micht hae a chance," she asked with meditative suggestion, "allooin' 'at she did forget him whiles?"

"Nae doot, lassie. The nations that forget God are them that dinna care, that never fash their heids, or their herts aither, aboot him-them that were never called, never chosen."

Annie's trouble returned like a sea-wave that had only retired to gather strength.

"But hoo's a body to ken whether she be ane o' the elec'?" she said, quaking.

"That's a hard maitter. It's no needfu' to ken't aforehan'. Jist lat that alane i' the mean time."

"But I canna lat it alane. It's no for mysel' aither a'thegither. Could ye lat it alane, Thomas?"

This home-thrust prevented any questioning about the second clause of her answer. And Thomas dearly loved plain dealing.

"Ye hae me there, lassie. Na, I cudna lat it alane. An' I never did lat it alane. I plaguit the Lord nicht an' day till he loot me ken."

"I tried hard last nicht," said Annie, "but the rottans war ower mony for me."

"Sawtan has mony wiles," said the mason reflectively.

"Do ye think they warna rottans?' asked Annie.

"Ow! nae doot. I daursay."

"'Cause, gin I thocht they war only deils, I wadna care a buckie (periwinkle) for them."

"It's muckle the same what ye ca' them, gin they ca you frae the throne o' grace, lassie."

"What am I to do than, Thomas?"

"Ye maun haud at it, lassie, jist as the poor widow did wi' the unjust judge. An' gin the Lord hears ye, ye'll ken ye're ane o' the elec', for it's only his own elec' that the Lord dis hear. Eh! lassie, little ye ken aboot prayin' an' no faintin'."

Alas for the parable if Thomas's theories were to be carried out in its exposi

tion! For they would lead to the conclusion that the Lord and the unjust judge were one and the same person. But it is our divine aspirations and not our intellectual theories that need to be carried out. The latter may, nay must in some measure, perish; the former will be found in perfect harmony with the divine Will; yea, true though faint echoes of that Will-echoes from the unknown caves of our deepest humanity, where lies, yet swathed in darkness, the divine image.

To Thomas's words Annie's only reply was a fixed gaze, which he answered thus, resuming his last words:

"Ay, lassie, little ye ken aboot watchin' and prayin'. Whan it pleased the Lord to call me, I was stan'in' my lane i' the mids' o' a peat-moss, luikin' wast, whaur the sun had left a reid licht ahin him, as gin he had jist brunt oot o' the lift, an' hadna gane doon ava. An' it min'd me o' the day o' jeedgment. An' there I steid and luikit, till the licht itsel' deid oot, an' naething was left but a gray sky an' a feow starns intil't. An' the cloods gethered, an' the lift grew black an' mirk; an' the haill countryside vainished, till I kent no more aboot it than what my twa feet could answer for. An' I daurna muv for the fear o' the pits o' water an' the walleen (well-eyes-quagmire-springs) on ilka han'. The lee-lang nicht I stood, or lay, or kneeled upo' my k-nees, cryin' to the Lord for grace. I forgot a' aboot election, an' cried jist as gin I could gar him hear me by haudin' at him. An' i' the mornin', whan the licht cam', I faund that my face was to the risin' sun. And I crap oot o' the bog, an' hame to my ain hoose. An' ilka body 'at I met o' the road took the tither side o' 't, and glowert at me as gin I had been a ghaist or a warlock. An' the bairns playin' aboot the doors ran in like rabbits whan they got sicht o' me. An' I begud to think 'at something fearsome had signed me for a reprobate; an' I jist closed my door, and gaed to my bed, and loot my wark stan', for wha cud wark wi' damnation hingin' ower his heid? An' three days gaed ower me, that nothing passed my lips but a drap o' milk an' water. An' o' the fourth day, i' the efternoon, I gaed to my wark wi' my heid swimmin' and my hert like to brak for verra glaidness. I was ane o' the chosen.["]

"But hoo did ye fin' that oot, Thomas?" asked Annie, trembling.

"Weel, lassie," answered Thomas, with solemn conviction in every tone, "it's my firm belief that, say what they like, there is, and there can be, but one way o' comin' to the knowledge o' that secret."

"And what's that?" entreated Annie, whose life seemed to hang upon his lips.

"Jist this. Get a sicht o' the face o' God.-It's my belief, an' a' the minnisters in creation'll no gar me alter my min', that no man can get a glimp' o' the face o' God but ane o' the chosen. I'm no sayin' 'at a man's no ane o' the elec' that hasna had that favour vouchsaufed to him; but this I do say, that he canna ken his election wi'oot that. Try ye to get a sicht o' the face o' God, lassie: syne ye'll ken and be at peace. Even Moses himsel' cudna be saitisfeed wi'oot that."

"What is't like, Thomas?" said Annie, with an eagerness which awe made very still.

"No words can tell that. It's all in the speerit. Whan ye see't ye'll ken't. There's no fear o' mistakin' that."

Teacher and scholar were silent. Annie was the first to speak. She had gained her quest.

"Am I to gang hame noo, Thomas?"

"Ay, gang hame, lassie, to yer prayers. But I doobt it's dark. I'll gang wi' ye.-Jean, my shune!"

"Na, na; I could gang hame blinlins," remonstrated Annie.

"Haud yer tongue. I'm gaein hame wi' ye, bairn.-Jean, my shune!"

"Hoot, Thamas! I've jist cleaned them," screeched Jean from the kitchen at the second call.

"Fess them here direckly. It's a jeedgment on ye for sayin' worship cud bide better nor the shune."

Janet brought them and put them down sulkily. In another minute the great shoes, full of nails half an inch broad, were replaced on the tired feet, and with her soft little hand clasped in the great horny hand of the stonemason, Annie trotted home by his side. With Scotch caution, Thomas, as soon as they entered the shop, instead of taking leave of Annie, went up to the counter, and asked for an "unce o' tobawco," as if his appearance along with Annie were merely accidental; while Annie, with perfect appreciation of the reticence, ran through the gap in the counter.

She was so far comforted and so much tired, that she fell asleep at her prayers by the bedside. Presently she awoke in terror. It was Pussy however that had waked her, as she knew by the green eyes lamping in a corner. But she closed her prayers rather abruptly, clambered into bed, and was soon fast asleep.

And in her sleep she dreamed that she stood in the darkness of the same peat-moss which had held Thomas and his prayers all the night long. She thought she was kept in there, till she should pray enough to get herself out of it. And she tried hard to pray, but she could not. And she fell down in despair, beset with the terrors of those frightful holes full of black water which she had seen on her way to Glamerton. But a hand came out of the darkness, laid hold of hers, and lifting her up, led her through the bog. And she dimly saw the form that led her, and it was that of a man who walked looking upon the earth. And she tried to see his face, but she could not, for he walked ever a little before her. And he led her home to the old farm. And her father came to the door to meet them. And he looked just the same as in the old happy days, only that his face was strangely bright. And with the joy of seeing her father she awoke to a gentle sorrow that she had not seen also the face of her deliverer.

The next evening she wandered down to George Macwha's, and found the two boys at work. She had no poetry to give them, no stories to tell them, no answer to their questions as to where she had been the night before. She could only stand in silence and watch them. The skeleton of the boat grew beneath their hands, but it was on the workers and not on their work that her gaze was fixed. For her heart was burning within her, and she could hardly restrain herself from throwing her arms about their necks and imploring them to seek the face of God. Oh! if she only knew that Alec and Curly were of the elect! But they only could find that out. There was no way for her to peer into that mystery. All she could do was to watch their wants, to have the tool they needed next ready to their hand, to clear away the spales from before the busy plane, and to lie in wait for any chance of putting to her little strength to help. Perhaps they were not of the elect! She would minister to them therefore-oh, how much the more tenderly!

"What's come ower Annie?" said the one to the other when she had gone.

But there was no answer to be found to the question. Could they have understood her if she had told them what had come over her?

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